What is influenza?
The flu is an illness that affects the nose, throat and lungs. It is caused by a flu virus. The flu affects people every fall and winter – that's why the time of year from November to April is known as "flu season." The flu can cause mild illness or it can be serious. In certain people, it can cause severe illness, lead to hospital care or cause death.
There are three types of flu viruses: A, B and C. The A and B types can cause epidemics (widespread outbreaks of flu). No C flu viruses have been known to cause epidemics.
Flu viruses change from year to year, so that is usually why a new flu vaccine needs to be made each year. The 2012/2013 flu vaccine protects against three flu viruses: two A's, H1N1 and H3N2 and an influenza B virus.
How do I know if I have the flu?
People who have the flu can have a variety of symptoms, but most of all, they feel pretty terrible.
Other things to look for include:
If you do have the flu, learn what you can do about it.
Who can get the flu?
The flu can affect people of any age. Children, the elderly and people who have other health conditions (like diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure and lung disease) are more likely to get sicker because their immune systems aren't strong enough to fight off the infection.
How does the flu spread?
Flu germs can spread through the air when a person with the flu coughs or sneezes. People who breathe those germs in can get sick.
Also, if a person with the flu coughs or sneezes on their hands and then touches something (like a doorknob, desk or handrail), they can put flu germs on that thing. If someone else then touches that thing and then touches their face, they can get sick from the flu.
How can I keep from getting the flu?
Get a flu shot. The best way to keep from getting the flu is by getting a flu shot every year. Plus, getting vaccinated not only protects you, it also helps keep your family from catching the flu! If you don't get the flu, you can't spread the flu! Everyone who is six months old or older should get their flu shot every year. Learn more about the flu shot. You can see the schedule for all PDPH-sponsored flu shot clinics here.
There are other steps you can take every day to protect your health, too:
Learn more about stopping the spread of germs.
Is the flu serious?
It is a myth that the flu is “no big deal.” In fact, each year in the United States, on average:
What is the difference between a cold and the flu?
The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but different viruses cause them. They have similar symptoms (such as fever and sore throat), so sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. Here are some differences:
The Common Cold
Find Out More